From the publishers of THE HINDU
VOL.32 :: NO.34 :: Aug. 22, 2009
Benoit Assou-Ekotto (foreground) is ecstatic after opening the account for the Spurs.
The clubs treated the opening match of their season as if the whole outcome of the campaign was in the balance. It was only Tottenham Hotspur, though, who had poise as well as urgency. An abject Liverpool were deservedly defeated by Sebastien Bassong's goal on his debut and the furious late effort was a bid to atone for a blunt display. With deftness and imagination absent it was fitting that they should be reduced to baying for penalties. The more rational of two late appeals saw the referee Phil Dowd deciding that Andriy Voronin, a substitute, had elected to go down rather than being toppled by Benoit Assou-Ekotto.
The left-back, therefore, maintained an unsullied memory of an afternoon in which he scored the first goal of his entire career. It will be relished for more than curiosity value. After Tom Huddlestone's freekick, a minute from half-time, had cannoned into the defensive wall the full-back crashed a left-foot drive across Pepe Reina and high into the net.
Perhaps these will be groundbreaking days at White Hart Lane in a larger sense. If the sort of control they exerted over Liverpool is to be repeated regularly then the dream of a high station in the table is rational. The excellence of Luka Modric and Wilson Palacios, for instance, was no fleeting illusion on a warm summer's day. Liverpool would be well-advised to accept how ill-equipped they were.
The rejection of the first claim to a penalty was followed by a harangue aimed primarily at the 26- year-old fourth official Stuart Attwell by the club's assistant manager Sammy Lee. Dowd ordered him from the technical area. No doubt Liverpool will save more prolonged and private denunciations for the wretched efforts of some key players.
Steven Gerrard, who had overcome a groin strain to take part, was muted until the 56th minute when he levelled the score. Glen Johnson had burst inside Huddlestone and was then caught by the outstretched arm of the goalkeeper Heurelho Gomes. The thumping conversion of the penalty by Gerrard was a rare moment of conviction from Liverpool.
Tottenham were not to be disheartened. Three minutes later Bassong got himself in front of Jamie Carragher to head in from a Modric set-piece. Harry Redknapp's side had overcome Liverpool by the same score last season, but the manager was right to recognise that the matches bore no more resemblance to one another. Tottenham had scrambled through that earlier encounter. Here, the outcome ought to have been more emphatic. Robbie Keane will take some of the blame for that, although his capacity to get into scoring positions was encouraging.
His appearance from the start, with Peter Crouch making his debut purely as a substitute for the Irishman, could have reflected a suspicion on Redknapp's part that Keane would have something to prove after his sorry spell at Anfield.
If so, the attacker almost fulfilled the ambition. Keane certainly sniffed out openings, but failed to take them. In the first-half, Reina saved his header from a Modric cross and the goalkeeper later threw up his left-arm to block the shot that Keane struck after he had been put through by the Croat. Bassong, the ť10m signing from Newcastle, was an unlikely provider of victory. Tottenham have fitness concerns about the centre- halves already on the books, even if Ledley King was authoritative throughout this match, and would never have guessed that the fee for the defender would buy a win.
The goal was wholly untypical of Carragher and he did have valid excuses. An early collision with his fellow defender Martin Skrtel left him with a cut to the head that needed a dozen staples. While the Slovak continued unbandaged he had a jaw injury that called for stitches and was obviously affected. He stubbornly insisted that he could continue until his removal ultimately became unavoidable.
It would be a little premature to dwell on another missing person, but it is valid to wonder how much Xabi Alonso will be missed now that he has gone to Real Madrid. Without him there was markedly less structure in midfield even if Lucas, a different type of player, gave an acceptable account of himself. Only when Alonso's ostensible successor, the Italian Alberto Aquilani, is fit will we know if Rafael Benítez does have a genuine replacement to the Spaniard.
Tottenham, for a little while, can relish the contentment. A year ago their opening win of the league programme did not come until the ninth match. Their progress through this campaign ought not to be subject to severe delays.
© Guardian Newspapers Limited 2009
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